FIn parts of the Arab world and India, interestingly, poetry is witnessing “a huge revival. At the Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, students took to platform and sang Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s Hum Dekhenge; the same happened in the Jamia Millia University”, said Tariq Ali, now editor of the pro-Trotskyist magazine New Left Review, in his keynote speech on the second day of Lahore Biennale-02 at the National College of Arts. One of the prodigal sons of Lahore, Ali sees in poetry the birth of a new internationalism, no matter “whether that poetry was sung by great stars or not”. The day the US started bombing Iraq, he remembered, he was with the great Iraqi poet Saadi Youssef, who had written a new poem the week before. The poet, Ali recalled, was in Baghdad and corresponded with fellow Iraqi poet-in-exile in Damascus Mudhaffar Al-Nawab addressing him in the poem, ‘What are we going to do, O Mudhaffar Al-Nawab?’ The poem was titled The Jackals’ Wedding. In Iraqi tradition, a jackal’s wedding has a different – and an unpleasant – connotation to the one it has in South Asian culture.

The theme of Lahore Biennale-02 was “Between the Sun and the Moon” and Ali chose the topic ‘Decolonization Processes and Solidarity. ’Like a typical copybook political player, Ali hesitantly termed the Narendra Modi government ‘semi-fascist’ and not fascist, thus differentiating himself from the general opposition view in India about the regime under the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance. Making a mention of assault on Kashmir and the Citizenship Amendment Act, he thanked Modi ‘for uniting Hindus and Muslims.’ “These kinds of movements are important because they produce not only solidarity with the oppressed but also activity”, he said.

Author of Street Fighting Years: An Autobiography of the Sixties and one of the top leaders of historic student revolt of west Europe in 1968, Ali regretted in a tensed tone that all contact with Kashmir had been cut off and people who were mostly targeted were young men”. The event was not well-reported that now in India “to talk about Kashmir is to be accused of threatening Indian security by linking it to Pakistan”. He banteringly wondered aloud, “if the Indian people do not defend the rights of Kashmir, what will they do when they come for the former?”

Tariq Ali’s homecoming might have warmed a lot of hearts, but mostly among the old guard and his contemporaries. His silence about Pakistan disappointed many. “We thought Tariq Sahib would at least mention the resistance of the Aurat March and the Student Solidarity Movement”, said a well-known writer choosing anonymity. When the President of Pakistan, Dr Arif Alvi, inaugurating the festival at Huzuri Bagh Lahore Fort on Sunday said, “A lot of aspects of art and architecture needed to be explored. Pakistan is opening up; clouds of insecurity are no more here,” the once-firebrand Left extremist’s stance was astonishing.

The iconic Leftist thinker moved on to the ever-nebulous Middle East, particularly since 9/11, and pointed accusing fingers at the USA for “systematic destruction of a continent”, mentioning Iran as under attack by “US imperialism”. He argued that the same US rulers invaded Iraq in 2003, when Iran backed it with the Shia parties at the helm in Baghdad. .Iran acts largely in its ‘own self-interest; there was no over-arching solidarity’. Iran’s enemy-list includes the Taliban in Afghanistan. Which was why the Iranians backed the US invasion But, he noted, the US skipped any deal with Iran. Ali wondered aloud about the American plan up the sleeves about the Middle East alongside helping Israel. Pentagon made three wars against Iraq, cut off Libya thrice and injected a nightmare in Syria. ‘Its aim was to create little Bantustans in that region, Ali apprehended.

The London-based non-resident Pakistani’s emphasis was the increasingly unfavourable global scenario. He started off reminding the august gathering of Lahore historically as an internationalist city. He reminisced “awful things”, the first of which was assassination of Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba that instantly made the students marched along thoroughfares. Never mind even if they were not there (Congo) physically, or could not expose themselves because they were civil servants or worse. How the world has changed since then?”

Ali made it clear that there was no room for despair wholly as it is an imperative the world over ‘ to depend on state power when states acted in their own self-interests was delusional’ Very few states like Cuba, he noted act in the interests of international solidarity. “This world is a world of transition and morbid symptoms on every continent. These symptoms destroy hope and encourage despair. Students came out in Chile and demonstrated continuously for several months; students in Iraq came out and started demonstrating against corruption. One felt hope because lots of demonstrations in Baghdad and Basra were both Sunni and Shia; and this deliberate attempt to sectarianise the Muslim world was challenged by Iraqi students.

The Trotskyist thinker reposes faith in the new generations of Lebanon and Iraq. In spite of the great difference between the 20th century and the present one, he thinks it would not be a smooth walk for the USA or President Donald Trump who can’t thrive on ‘the gangster talk emanating from the White House was usually covered up. The big challenge facing US imperialism was how to maintain American hegemony in a world not divided by ideology or a countervailing ideology. The CIA has a list from the highest possible response to the lowest possible response regarding which state or non-state functionaries they want to assassinate globally’.

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